When Did The Navy Stop Using Hammocks? (And Why?)

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For many years the trusted hammock was an essential part of any sailor’s seabag.

But today it no longer is.

But why did sailors sleep in hammocks in the first place? When did the Navy stop using them? And why did they stop using them?

We take a look at all of that and more in our post today.

So let’s get started.

When and Why Did The Navy Stop Using Hammocks?

The Navy stopped using hammocks after the Second World War. This was as the technology on ships began to develop to the extent that machinery began to do the job that many men previously would do. This freed up space on the ship and allowed for them to be equipped with proper sleeping bunks or racks.

Why Did Sailors Sleep in Hammocks?

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It was towards the end of the 16th century that sailors began using hammocks.

Before hammocks, sailors often sleepy on hard wooden berths or simply slept on the deck itself. 

Occasionally they might be lucky enough to have bags filled with straw or leaves to lie on.

This posed all kinds of problems, most notably the fact that in stormy conditions the men could easily be thrown off of their berths and into the water, or would spend the night rolling around the deck as the ship careered around rough seas!

A hammock of course would move in motion with the ship and this, combined with the fact the sides of the hammock would wrap around the occupant like a cocoon, meant they were a much safer option.

Another reason that hammocks were popular was for the space they saved, when space was very much at a premium. Hammocks of course could be taken down each morning. 

Prior to the 20th century, ships relied much more on manpower, so there would be many more men onboard, and they would be sharing the space with guns and cannons along with everything else needed for the operation of the ship.

Hammocks provided an effective way of sleeping many men each night, and still provided plenty of space on the ship.

Using a hammock was also much more hygienic than the option of sleeping on the deck of a ship on a makeshift mattress that would inevitably become sodden and infested with insects or lice.

Did Ship Captains Sleep In Hammocks?

One of the main privileges of being a Ship Captain, or a Pirate Captain, was the fact you had your own private sleeping quarters.

This was to allow you to sleep well each night so you could focus on your job of captaining the ship each day.

Common sailors, as mentioned above, would sleep on hammocks.

But eventually even hammocks were phased out.

When Did The Navy Stop Using Hammocks?

The Navy eventually stopped issuing hammocks in the aftermath of World War Two.

Prior to 1945 all male Navy recruits were issued with a hammock and other bedding items.

That meant that by the time the war ended, there were around three million men in the Navy and the same amount of hammocks!

But as the design and technology of the Navy’s ships changed, so did the need for hammocks…

Why Did the Navy Stop Using Hammocks?

American warship

Essentially by the mid-1930s modern warships were not as reliant on manpower anymore.

Machines were being introduced on board to do the work men had previously done.

As an example, Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory was 69.3m (227.5 ft) long, with a 15.8m (52 ft) beam, and was equipped with a crew of 850 men.

A similar ship today, like the Freedom-class littoral combat ships which are 115m (378 ft) long and have a 17.5m (57.4 ft) beam, has a crew of 65 men.

This began to free up a lot more space.

So around this time, ships began to be equipped with bunks or racks.

These provided better support and generally a better night’s sleep than a hammock.

Over time the design of the bunks would be developed to allow increased storage and extra privacy.

So by the time the Second World War came to an end, with the Navy aware of the fact better sleep made for better fighting and with bunks/racks now in the ascendancy, they stopped issuing hammocks.

Do Any Sailors Still Sleep in Hammocks?

In nearly all modern navies across the world, hammocks are not regularly used.

That isn’t to say the use of them has ended completely.

Sometimes new recruits are taught how to use hammocks, so they can be prepared for any possible situation.

The humble hammock does still serve a role on occasion and has not disappeared completely from use.

Does the Army Use Hammocks?

Much like many navies across the world, the hammock is not used as a principal sleeping method in the Army, but does have a role as a supplementary way of sleeping.

Typically most members of the Army sleep in barracks or billets, but hammocks are used on occasion when in the field or on reconnaissance.

It very much depends on personal preference. 

Some army members who are billeted overseas in a tent may even attach a hammock to the frame of the tent and sleep in that.

In certain situations, when in the jungle etc, a hammock may be more convenient and more comfortable.

Final Thoughts

INFOGRAPHIC Answering the Question When Did the Navy Stop Using Hammocks
Click infographic to enlarge

As you can see the hammock still does have a role in the military world, but certainly it is not as prominent as it was a couple of centuries ago.

For hundreds of years, hammocks were the only way for the majority of sailors to sleep on a ship.

They were a step up from sleeping in straw-stuffed bags on the floor and were popular because they took up little space and could be easily stored away.

As modern warships developed technologically, and less men were needed it began to free up extra space for proper sleeping areas for sailors.

Thus hammocks were phased out and bunks/racks were introduced after the Second World War.

Hammocks are still used on occasion and do provide a handy alternative means of sleeping in limited space or when in the field.

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